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Jack Higgins, it says here, has sold 250 million copies of his novels since he wrote The Eagle has Landed, so it’s not surprising that this series about SAS man John Chance and his twin teenagers, Rich and Jade, is written ‘with Justin Richards’, himself a bestselling author of numerous Dr Who spin-offs and other detective and sci-fi fiction for young readers. This is a quickfire shoot-’em-up in which countless people are ‘taken out’ or ‘cut down’ rather than messily killed. The plot involves the SAS, the CIA, gunplay and chases in most chapters, as the bad guys threaten to destabilise the Middle East by exploding a stolen nuclear device in East Araby (home to a key US airbase). Rich and Jade are far more daring than most of the adults involved (as no doubt they were in Sharp Shot’s two predecessors in the series, Sure Fire and Death Run). The fiercer the pressure, the cooler they are, unfazed by any kind of hazard, such as being chased by people in suits and dark sunglasses (cunning disguise, eh?) over the open carriages of a crowded rollercoaster in a theme park. (Just a minute, why not sit tight? I mean, what were the Sunglasses going to do in front of all those people?) John Chance – opportunity here for groaning puns along the lines of ‘leave these things to Chance’ – repeatedly tells his kids they must not follow him into danger, and they repeatedly say No, and do. They say a good deal more, in truth, for together they are a kind of cool crosstalk act, which helps to keep the pace zipping along. Someone should have picked up over-hasty revisions such as ‘Goddard was due to meet them from the landing strip near the palace and Goddard would meet them there’ as well as the odd name which is simply the wrong character. People tend to ‘snap’, ‘glare’ and ‘nod’ rather often, and the dialogue includes clunky explanations for the reader which the characters involved just wouldn’t need: ‘There was a rumour they got stuff out of the Al-Maan facility before Mossad, the Israeli counter terrorism unit, paid it a visit,’ says one SAS man to another.
But, the plot ranges from rapid to explosive, the scene shifts swiftly from the Cotswolds to Middle Eastern deserts and palaces, and the twins are witty in a way early teenage readers will enjoy. It’s a thriller – no more, no less – driven by tough talk, high stakes, double dealing and violent action; and there’s been a market for that from Bond to Bourne.